Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Realism, Revulsion, and Redemption--and Good Writing

Five gentlemen this clear winter evening, gorgeous star-filled night outside, crackling fire and comaraderie inside. We pattered around talking about marketing, connecting on Goodreads and NetGallery, and CHG and book printing for our author consortium publishing cooperative. Then great discussion about how we tell good news. It is so much easier to write about human depravity. Plenty of examples, never a shortage of material, but where is the redemptive element. Writing about people being mean, being ugly, being promiscuous, being cruel--all that it relatively easy, frankly. Though very often we just ape the world and become gratuitous--"Look at me, I can sweat in my writing as much as the world. Aren't I with it!" I must have arrived as a writer. But something is deeply flawed in our assumptions when we think this way. So how do we adorn the gospel in our writing? I'm afraid I blabbed a bit much about what I think about as I write, creating longing for truth, beauty, and the Good News, within the boundaries of my genre, fiction (I will be talking a good deal about this important topic at the OXFORD CREATIVE WRITING MASTER CLASS(s); for serious-minded writers, we do have a few places available in the July master class, but don't delay).


Dougie leads off on our reading component. World War I at Verdun, winter of 1916. This is an intriguing yarn told from the point of view of the Germans in the Great War. I'm particularly fascinated by this as I have been writing about WW I from the Somerset Light Infantry British point of view, but all the while attempting to show the humanity of individuals fighting on either side, Germans including. I heard an example of where using parallel structure would help your syntax. The sentence ended with only death, but it sounded to my ear like it might be better to conclude with parallel contrast with how you get out of this war, not by fever or whatever else it was you wrote. I want to feel more emotion about the dead sniper corpse. Hubert and Sepp don't seem to show the reader how it impacts them to see this. Wouldn't Sepp or Hubert feel anxious about their own life, wonder if they will be like that man before the war is over, maybe before another day passes. Hubert with astonishment deals with the wounded soldier, but I want to get inside Hubert's head. How does he really feel about his commander being hit. The hand on the shoulder, the instant of solemnity felt like it needed development.

John reads from his Violetta Russian yarn, when she goes up to the graves. Right after the shelling and Tamara and the other one are dead. She had promised that she would come visit every day. My eyes studied. I think it would be more natural for her to be less self conscious about what her eyes were doing. She studied. Her conversation with her fallen friends. A fly was buzzing away at my face... I swooshed a bug away with my hand, would be more concise. Very good: I swatted at the fly again. I think you might have over written  and need to tighten some of your syntax. Talking with the dead at their graves. Try tightening her words, use fragments. Have her perplexed at doing it. Even a bit frightened.

Bob read us the first chapter of a sequel to The Crescent & the Cross. Would touch, I would hold my breath as long as I could. This sounds like it is being written in the theoretical, maybe a dream. I think the reader will have an aha moment if you briefly summarize Sinbad's past and conversion and Selassi's role. It seems better to simply review it and let the reader say,"Yes, I remember that." I don't think I would let the reader know that he didn't actually get burned at the stake. Leave them wondering about it, hopeful because of the first person point of view, yet suspended about whether it happened. I would like to have a bit more tactile material, especially exotic smells, Arabian Knights feel ramped up a bit more.

Coming this spring!
I read from near the end of my historical fiction World War I novel, featuring teen atheist 2/Lt CS Lewis, WAR IN THE WASTELAND, the chapter that goes inside Nigel's head and explores his fears anticipating going over the top, his veneration of Sergeant Ayres, and wherein I attempt to define true courage. This is what I like about 'Blots, these dudes are not shy in the slightest about beating me up, excoriating my writing. Precisely as it should be. It's moments like this that I share with writers who have asked me to critique their work ("Hey, I get the same treatment, so buck up," or words to that effect, though a bit gentler). 'Blots' push back: Too much ping-pinging of rain drops on Tin hats, and could you even hear it if there was artillery pounding the German trenches? Too much introspection. The more I have thought about it, I agree. This chapter will be better if  I tighten by 25%. So I am sharpening my butcher knife as we speak. I have also received feedback from my two other respected sources--and have work to do. Do not become a writer if you are overly sensitive (go into subterranean mud sculpture on a deserted island far, far away from the critical gaze of other human beings)!

I invite you to subscribe to my blog and keep up on our Inkblots writing and reading sessions, and on the latest about forthcoming books, radio interviews, speaking venues, church history tours, the forthcoming New Reformation Hymns album, and book reviews and commendations. Read book excerpts at www.bondbooks.net

Friday, February 5, 2016

Let the Reader Speak! A 12-year-old's point of view



Whom do you think is Ethan's favorite character?
I received this well-crafted book review from a young man who is an avid reader of my books. I thought I would share it with all of you. Notice this young scholar's vocabulary (Ethan, no doubt, attends the very best of schools...)
Dear Mr. Bond,
Did you have stories as good as yours when you were a boy? I am very thankful for your books. I own the Crown & Covenant series and the Faith & Freedom series. I really appreciate your books because they are written full of adventure and excitement. Of the two that I have read, my favorite trilogy is the Crown & Covenant. By far my favorite character is Angus M’Kethe. 

All of your books are written extraordinarily. They are so great because you skillfully weave history with fiction into splendid stories. The characters experience history from a real perspective. Also, faith is included in the story along with action. Impressively, you create characters that are strong physically and in the faith. Grandfather Sandy M’Kethe is an example of that. You write excellent stories as good as gold.
 
The Crown & Covenant trilogy is the best trilogy. I believe it is the best because it is action-packed. Sometimes I feel that I can relate to the characters. They experience trial and hardships. During the trials, they persevere and stay true to each other and God. I admire that. The three books are a story of true manhood. You hit the bulls-eye when writing the Crown & Covenant series. 

In my opinion, Angus is the coolest character. He is bright. He is fast. He is brave. His quick thinking entertains me. Adding to that, his bravery saved his siblings and nephew. His skill with the bow impresses me the most. I wish I had his skill. Angus takes first place above all the other characters.


Although all of your books are great, the Crown & Covenant series is my favorite set. In that series Angus is the best character. I enjoy your style of writing the most because you weave exciting history and fictional characters into fun historical-fiction.

Sincerely,
Ethan Ashley, 6th grade 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Obsessive Compulsive Editing at INKBLOTS

One of 50,000 dogs who served in World War I
Frigid, rainy, January evening, temperatures in the 30s in Kitsap County, but fire hissing comfortingly to my right, glass of Menage a tois and French chocolates near to hand. We discussed what we've been talking about for months and months. Plans to have another session in the next week on typesetting and readying manuscript for book printer. We discussed the need for careful and skillful proof reading and copy editing (and the cost); however good a grammarian an author is, there are things we miss. We must have other eyes--honest, critical, experienced ones--on the manuscript. If the author is the artist, a good copy editor is the quality-control technician. And it doesn't hurt if the copy editor is 7/8ths OCD. Here are some helpful links about the different degrees of editing and the costs:http://tommangan.net/verbnerd/how-much-should-editing-cost/. I've included some of the publishing industry information and standard rates for editing here: http://www.bondbooks.net/readingservice.htm.


John read from his Russian novel underway. This is an intense, gritty, and realistic chapter about a young girl who is about to be violated by an intruder. She reached for a knife. I was terrified... Show what terrified looks like, in her trembling, her heart racing, the quickened breath. CS Lewis put it this way: "Don't use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was "terrible," describe it so that we'll be terrified. Don't say it was "delightful"; make us say "delightful" when we've read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers "Please will you do my job for me." John used the metaphor a wide berth--use another metaphor. This one is overused. Dougie Mac pointed out that John shifted from first person to third person in this chapter, an easy thing to do in first draft. It may indicate that you have not yet locked into which point of view works best for what you are doing in the novel. But you must lock in to a consistent pov. Alisa commented that the female antagonist is not going to observe the warm sunny day when she is feeling the impending threat. Justin commented that if she had planned ahead for her own self preservation where the knife was, her terror was regulated by calculation. The peace of the warm sunny morning is like a plate shattering after carrying a serving of bacon and eggs. The importance of the scream, a natural and necessary reactive impulse. 

Alisa has written two 1930s era manuscripts on a small town, Roslyn, Washington, based on a real murder that took place in this remote mining town.  A telephone operator overhears a plan to kill someone.  I wonder about the flash forward to the boy rocking back and forth glazed look in his eyes. I think you were creating foreshadowing but I wonder if you gave away too much. Remembering his mother's words... Why not actually let the reader hear them in his recollections. His mother talking about his wandering ways. Again, put this in him remembering her words in dialogue. This will create layers of character development; we'll hear his mother's words and get to know her unique personality, and we'll learn more of the dynamic of his relationship with his mother (if this is important to the story). You used Incredibly. I think this description would be stronger without the adverb.  Took gun out and studied it. How about his revolver, spinning the chamber to be sure it was loaded. What does it sound like. Heart racing as when he awoke after dreaming about monsters. Could you make this more specific? Monsters--too general. Jack the Ripper, or the Gill Man, or something more precise. His favorite miner--do you show this earlier? Yes she does. More specific details to show how meticulous the character is. Dougie Mac brings out a Smith & Wesson 357 revolver and explains double action and how Alisa could describe the antagonist preparing to use his. In fiction, I tend to avoid the who/which phrases in favor of a participial phrase (who was running down the road, better, running down the road. Who/which in fiction can sound too explanatory, in my opinion.

I read from War in the Wasteland where Lt Johnson pushes back on Lewis's atheism the night before going over the top. The push back from my 'Blots colleagues was that it was too weighty a discussion for the pace and needed more break to trench and war context. I'll get on that. Visit the link to read a pre-publication excerpt of War in the Wasteland.

Dougie Mac reads from his Western Front German perspective novel. I love how you use the Kant reference. His protagonist is reading a letter from his aunt. Hubert contemplating his aunt's unbelief and her conflating of all religions into one pot. This was a fascinating scene, a German sergeant showing one of his privates who is in charge. Well done.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

GOD'S SERVANT JOB "is great at the theological, aesthetic, and audience level"

[Unsolicited review by Emmanuel Boston]
Douglas Bond and Todd Shaffer collaborate to present you and the young ones in your life with “A Poem with a Promise”: God's Servant Job. Bond reworks the Ancient Near East verse into a readable, bouncing poem for children of all ages. The meter is easy and true—except for a few notable breaks when sinful dialogue is prominent, ultimately leading to better poetry and influence. Bond follows remarkably well to the text we’d find in modern translations, putting new words to ancient ideas that had me thinking: I’ve heard this before! And of course, what else would we want from a book that attempts bring Scripture to the hearts of little ones? Bond is sure to add a poetic exposition of what he believes to be the central thrust of the book of Job: “I know that my Redeemer lives!” and to relate it to the fulfillment of this truth in Jesus. He also includes a “Big Words,” “Quiz,” and “Let’s Think!” section which will aid parents and Sunday school teachers in discipleship, or even the self-motivated learner. (There are several ‘chapter’ divisions as well.)

Shaffer contributes excellent artwork to partner along the text. If you look at the cover picture, you will get a grasp of the overall style: angular, an almost ‘sketched’ look which seems to remind us of the temporal gap between this world and theirs. The color palette ranges, though, finding appropriate hues to show us the spectrum of the story: from bright heaven, to Satan’s technicolor; from dusty potsherds to the vast mysteries of God’s creation—the mood fits.

All in all, this book is great at the theological, aesthetic, and audience level. I do have a few recommendations for the author, and one disagreement.

First, the least controversial: I think the Big Words section could have included a few more (e.g. covenant, cornerstone, Redeemer).

Second: just preferentially, I would have liked to see an extra stanza devoted to Christ as the fulfillment of the Job typology.

Third: I do not believe that Elihu was condemned in concert with the three other friends of Job. Scripture itself is silent on this matter, but the author says, “My servant Job has seen the light, / But you, his friends, go nothing right.” The illustration likewise includes Elihu amidst the others. The author seems to recover from this when in the “Let’s Think!” section he highlights a parallel between Elihu’s words, Job’s words, and the message of the book. [*Author note: We discussed this in editorial and production stages of this book. There were supposed to only be three 'friends' in the
illustration for this page, thus making clear that Elihu was not condemned by God along with the others. The poetry itself in the section when Elihu is speaking makes this very clear]

Those recommendations notwithstanding, this is an excellent addition to any children’s library; even an adult’s. It accurately retells the story found in Job including some of its most famous lines, with simple, up to date poetry, showing forth the message of our Redeemer and the hope his children have of righteousness, justification, and forgiven sins. It’s easy to talk to adults, and oh so difficult to communicate the same things to children, but Bond and Shaffer have done just that.
Visit www.bondbooks.net for special Christmas book deals, including GOD'S SERVANT JOB

Sunday, December 13, 2015

A New Commandment Post-Modernity Giveth Unto Us

(A version of this blog post first appeared in Ligonier Ministries TABLE TALK magazine, June, 2015)

Honor Your Father and Your Mother

“No more of parental rules,” declares Calvin as he and Hobbes strut north to be masters of their fate in the frozen Yukon. “Good riddance to those grown-up ghouls!” Life will be grand, so Calvin thinks, because there he won’t need to put up with—much less honor—his parents (Bill Watterson).
In a culture that honors youth, “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12a) makes no sense. Isn’t honor something we seek for ourselves? So what’s all this about giving it to others?
YOUTH CULT
Our tolerant culture has zero tolerance for aging, which has produced a cult of perpetual youth, with perfect teeth grinning at us wherever we turn. In the resulting frenzy to appear young, Americans annually spend an amount on cosmetic procedures sufficient to feed and clothe 54 million starving children. 

Devoutly honoring the superficiality of appearance, we look with longing toward youth—and with loathing toward age and maturity. We desperately don’t want to grow up and give up childish ways (I Corinthians 13:11b), so, rather than honor, we ignore or neglect the aged.

Dishonoring maturity, however, is not just the problem of our image-driven youth culture. Seeing the tendency in 16th century Geneva, Calvin cautioned from his deathbed, “Let the young continue to be modest, without wishing to put themselves forward too much; for there is always a boastful character in young folks… who push on in despising others.”

HONOR OR ABANDON

Perversely, our culture makes it a virtue to “push on in despising others,” especially parents. Jared Diamond, UCLA professor and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, argues that with technology and inexhaustible access to information we no longer need the mature as a source of wisdom. 

In his article “Honor or Abandon,” Diamond goes further: “It may under some circumstances be better for children to abandon or kill their parents.” Which flips the fifth commandment on its head, turning what is forbidden into what is required, neglecting and heinously acting against the honor of parents and others (WSC Q.65).

HONOR ALL

Going down to the heart, the fifth commandment extends beyond honoring parents. It “…requireth the preserving the honour, and performing the duties, belonging to everyone in their several places and relations, as superiors, inferiors, or equals” (WSC Q.64).

Enshrined in the fifth commandment is our entire duty to love our neighbor as ourselves—all our neighbors.

But honoring is hard; it requires us to suspend our self-worship, to give up the honor we imagine belongs to us and render it to another, to inconvenience ourselves for the benefit of others, to rise in the presence of the aged (Leviticus 19:32) and thereby honor God.

HONOR THE DISHONORABLE

Intractable lovers of self, we find honoring others too difficult—actually, impossible. So we cast about for a way out. Many have good reasons. An anguished young man once asked me, “How am I supposed to honor my father after what he’s done to my mother?” It was a good question. I knew what this father had done. He’d run off with another woman, leaving his pregnant wife to pick up the pieces of the domestic disaster created by his profoundly dishonorable behavior. Nevertheless, God tells this young man to honor his father.

Master finaglers, the Pharisees thought they had landed on the ultimate exception clause to honoring parents. They had cooked up a tradition that said when they declared their resources given to God they were off the hook on the fifth commandment. Jesus exposed the fraud: “So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you…:

“‘This people honors me with their lips,
            but their heart is far from me…’” (Matthew 15:1-9).

Only hearts that have been brought near to God in Christ can truly honor—even a dishonorable parent. Just as “Children obey your parents,” does not include obeying their sinful commands, so “Honor your father,” does not include honoring his dishonorable behavior.

However, if Peter can urge 1st century believers to honor everyone, including Emperor Nero (I Peter 2:17), then the command to honor parents isn’t made void by having a dishonorable parent, any more than the command to love our neighbor is void when we have a neighbor who lobs beer cans into our yard. God’s commands still apply in a broken world of imperfect neighbors and dishonorable parents; they were gifted to us by our gracious heavenly Father for just such a world.

PERFECT OBEDIENCE REQUIRED

Unique in the Decalogue, the Spirit annexed to the fifth commandment an enduring consequence for obeying it, “that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12b).

Long life—Everlasting life! Unshakably secured by our elder Brother whose obedience did surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5:20), who alone is perfect as His heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48), who did what no one has ever been able to do: perfectly fulfill all the duties required in God’s Law. Pick your earthly hero; not one has truly honored his parents.

Except Jesus. Honoring His Father’s will, Christ prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). Forsaken by His Father on the cross, yet the Son perfectly obeyed and honored His Father—though it cost Him everything. 

“Honor your father and your mother.” Jesus did. In Him, we can grow daily in the grace of honoring our earthly parents for the still greater honor of our heavenly Father.


Douglas Bond, author of twenty-five books, including Grace Works (And Ways We Think It Doesn’t), is a PCA ruling elder, conference speaker, and church history tour leader www.bondbooks.net